The UK government is planning to help Amazon get its delivery drones into operation by allowing the ecommerce giant to carry out a number of relatively secret tests in UK sky zones.
Amazon announced on Tuesday that it is teaming up with the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which regulates drones and other flying vehicles, to explore what steps need to be taken to make the delivery of parcels by small drones safe and reliable.
Amazon’s battery-powered drones have been designed to rise vertically like a helicopter up to 400 feet before flying up at speeds of up to 50mph for distances of up to 15 miles. The 25kg drones are highly automated and they can carry packages up to 2kg in weight.
The CAA has granted Amazon permission to test three “key innovations” necessary for Amazon’s so-called Prime Air Delivery Service in the UK, according to Amazon VP of global innovation policy and communications, Paul Misener.
The innovations are:
- Beyond line of sight operations in rural and suburban areas,
- Testing sensor performance to make sure the drones can identify and avoid obstacles
- Flights where one person operates multiple highly-automated drones.
However, there’s a problem. The nature of tests is that things can, and often do, go wrong.
Amazon and the CAA held back several other important factors when they made their joint announcement, including how many drones will be tested, how often, and when the tests will commence.
It’s been reported that the tests are happening just east of a village called Worsted Lodge, close to Sawston, in Cambridgeshire, but this is unconfirmed.
Daniel Buchmueller, who cofounded Amazon’s Prime Air business and leads Amazon’s drone development operations in the UK, revealed last month that Amazon’s largest outdoor drone testing site is somewhere in the region.
“We have [drone] development centres right here in the UK. In the United States, in Austria, and in Israel,” he said. “These are places where we have dedicated indoor facilities. But we also have outdoor testing facilities. In fact, our largest outdoor facility is right here in the UK.”
US regulations only allow for line-of-sight operations so Amazon is not able to test its drones in its home country.
Liam Maxwell, the government’s chief technology officer, said the UK is “open” and “more progressive” than other countries when it comes to drone testing at an Amazon conference last month.
“The UK is a leader in enabling drone innovation — we’ve been investing in Prime Air research and development here for quite some time,” said Misener. “This announcement strengthens our partnership with the UK and brings Amazon closer to our goal of using drones to safely deliver parcels in 30 minutes to customers in the UK and elsewhere around the world.”
The world’s biggest online retailer has laid out plans to start using drones for deliveries by 2017.
Amazon and the CAA did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.
Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through his personal investment company Bezos Expeditions.
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